THE other day I saw a young woman from Bolton being vox-popped on the TV news about the town’s localised ‘lockdown’.
She said it was a good idea if it meant we would ‘Get Covid Done’, or words to that effect.
‘You’re likely to be disappointed,’ I thought. ‘New Zealand, miles away from anywhere, and with completely closed borders, thought it had Got Covid Done – and then a (suspected) consignment of frozen meat demonstrated otherwise.
‘And what was it some academic said about “as long as Covid is someone’s problem, it’s everyone’s problem”? i.e. while it exists anywhere on the planet it’s still a threat to everyone, including even in a Bolton that had Got Covid Done.’
Absolutely no disrespect to the young woman, but I couldn’t help but notice that she was probably in a group classed as being at a higher risk from Covid (and she was white, not BAME).
This set me thinking about the PM’s effort to reduce his own risk, albeit rather belatedly, and what he might learn from fighting the flab about fighting Covid.
As pretty much every serious, legitimate dietician and/or nutritionist, and probably almost every successful dieter, will tell you, when it comes to losing weight, slow and steady is almost always more effective than a short, sharp shock approach.
Or, as the NHS’s own website puts it on the page ‘Start losing weight’:
‘The keys to success: make realistic (my italics) changes to your diet and physical activity that can become a part of your regular routine; the best way to lose weight is to make long-term changes to diet and physical activity that result in a steady rate of weight loss.’
And on the page ‘Ten weight loss myths’:
‘Crash diets are unlikely to result in long-term weight loss. In fact, they can sometimes lead to longer-term weight gain.
‘The main problem is that this type of diet is too hard to maintain. You may also be missing out on essential nutrients as crash diets can be limited in the variety of food consumed. Your body will be low on energy, and may cause you to crave high-fat and high-sugar foods. This can lead to eating those foods and more calories than you need, causing weight gain.’
With a tiny bit of imagination, you can almost see dieting as a metaphor for fighting Covid: put the country on a crash diet (aka lockdown) and you certainly get results.
But then the diet ends and, as England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van Tam said recently, we ‘relaxed too much’. Especially, apparently, our young people, who were in effect forced on to a strict diet when they’d rather have been over-indulging on pizza and beer.
I’ve wondered for a while how things were in the dieting outlier that is Sweden, which took the approach recommended by the NHS – in dieting terms, anyway.
It’s been widely publicised how it’s been bucking the European trend, and is now recording fewer Covid cases, not more – albeit after first suffering some of the highest death rates in Europe, if not the world.
But have the authorities there experienced the same problems with ‘non-compliance’ as those in the UK and elsewhere? (Contrary to some perceptions, Sweden has made some changes – locking down care homes; recommending working from home; closing nightclubs, for starters.)
‘At TAK [a bar], 27-year-old customer Olena believes that after six months of consistent guidelines, many young Swedes have got used to more sedate socialising. “You can meet friends in small groups. But a night out probably ends that evening, not going into the next morning!”’ reports dual nationality Swedish resident Maddy Savage in the Telegraph.
According to Ms Savage, all is not perfect in Sweden: its economy has taken a hit – the hospitality sector in particular – although nowhere near as badly as the UK’s; there has been a spike in relationship separations, and residents are still concerned that their country, too, might suffer a second wave.
But, she says: ‘Many agree that the consistency of the measures in Sweden has contributed to a calmer public mood here than in the UK.’
As the Financial Times puts it, the approach of Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has been about having a strategy that can work for years if needs be, rather than the constant chopping and changing seen in the rest of Europe.
‘We don’t see it as viable to have this kind of drastic closing down, opening and closing,’ Tegnell tells the FT. ‘You can’t open and close schools. That is going to be a disaster. And you probably can’t open and close restaurants and stuff like that either too many times. Once or twice, yes, but then people will get very tired and businesses will probably suffer more than if you close them down completely.’
Elsewhere, he talks about aiming for ‘sustainability’ in his country’s approach.
In other words, and to borrow another health-related phrase, tackling Covid is more a marathon than a sprint.
We in the UK may have been trying to compete in the sprint, but it’s not too late to ask ourselves whether the marathon might suit us better.